POOR DAD, RICH DAD

Robert Kiyosaki wrote a book called “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.” The gist is that you can make more money through income-generating assets. Read: real estate. Kiyosaki claims to teach you how to make money the way his “rich dad” mentor, not his “poor dad” paternal father, taught him.

PASSING ON?

Few people focus on making money in their later days. As the twilight of their time here approaches, people rarely look to boast of achievements or primp their appearance. They don’t lord official or material authority over others. People nearing the end tend to deal the questions within.

HISTORY OF A COVENANT

Raised high, a muscled arm and calloused hand holds a knife, sharp and glinting in the afternoon sun. In one quick, steady motion, the arm thrusts downward, and the blade finds its mark on the spine of the lamb.

THE PURPOSE-DRIVEN WORD

A few things to keep in mind: 1) we don’t understand what Jesus is doing, 2) but we think we do; 3) he knows what he’s doing, and 4) he’ll accomplish his father’s purposes despite us.

ALONE? OR HOW TO LISTEN

We struggle with the concept of listening. This stems from our inability to value silence, to seek out solitude. We fill every moment and space with sound. Coffee shops, bookstores and bars hum with music, as streets and cities buzz with urban life’s song: construction, transportation, communication.

BOBBLEHEADS, BIG HANDS, BALANCED LIFE

Bobblehead Night makes for one of the best nights on any sports team’s calendar. Is there anything cooler than receiving a doll whose over-sized and ever-smiling head bounces endlessly? We look at any bobblehead, laugh, and then in relief think, “Gosh, I’m glad my head isn’t that big. I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, poke my head in the fridge, or find clothes with a suitable neckline.”

METHODS AND NUMBERS? OR PRESENCE AND INDIVIDUALS

“That’s a trap!” he said. “That’s a sneaky, manipulative trap.” Arguing with my buddy on an issue of “morality,” I’d caught him in a logical fallacy. I’d pounced on it and forced him to choose between two options he detested.

PRUNING

Jesus talks about pruning.  He says that God prunes his people in order to bear more fruit. Agricultural experts at Texas A&M say that pruning has four purposes: plant health and growth; increased fruit and flower production; safety of people and property; and appearances and aesthetics.  Translated, what does this mean for us?  Because it doesn’t all sound appealing.

FALLING? OR CHOOSING?

Why wedding vows? Have you ever considered this? Why does a priest, pastor, or judge ask a man, “Will you have this woman to be your wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?” Why does he ask the man to promise? Is he not in love? Won’t this suffice?

SENSITIVITY

As a single, I view marriage differently than my hitched friends. The conditions of this institution leave me baffled. Perhaps the seemingly complex and intricate interactions of two persons should not shock me so much, but they do.

ME FIRST

“Arrested development.” This prison contains our spiritual lives and stifles our usefulness to God. Most of us squander our lives in this stagnant condition, rather than facing the uncomfortable thought of growth and challenge. Our laziness hurts the mission.

LIKING NEW

I called my former teacher to talk.  My confession came quickly: “I don’t think I’ve liked myself much over the years.”

THE WHOLE WORLD WILL KNOW

Jesus says God wants to save the world. He then teaches his followers to love one another. That’s his master plan: love. Jesus says the world will know that God sent Jesus if his followers have “complete unity” (John 17:23).

THE BETTER BOAST

People are impressed with strength, wisdom and riches (not to mention beauty, wit and talent). God is not, unless of course, it is used by Him. The things God delights in are much less visible, much less recognizable, much more difficult to attain, and most importantly, given very little attention in this life.

TUNED IN

We’ve been told that most communication is nonverbal. Yet our primary means of connection, email and text message, eliminate that element altogether (with the exception of emojis). The consequences of this contradiction can be found on any newsstand. If we’re this bad at it, we should ask ourselves, “How good is God at communicating?”

TOO MUCH, TOO QUICKLY, TOO SOON

We want it all. We want it now. We have never been good at waiting. We like things quickly, and we realize that we are textbook examples of the American ideal of instant gratification and fast food satisfaction.  The glorious finale appeals to us so much more than the tedious process.  And yet the process cannot be eliminated, and growth takes time.  We’ve learned the hard way.

WHY DO I BELIEVE?

Why do I believe A+ grades make me a person who passes muster? Why do I believe my fraternity/sorority’s letters make me acceptable in general?

REMEMBER NOT TO FORGET

God blesses and provides. People forget. What is it that causes us to forget the fundamental experiences of our life?

STANDARDS

Killing time in an airport, I struck up a conversation with a stranger. When asked what I “do”, I told this man that I write about Jesus’ teachings. The man, hearing the name “Jesus” but not hearing any tip-off code words, fired off the test questions: “Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God? That he shed his blood for our sins? That he died and rose again? That we will be with him forever if we repent and are baptized?” I forgot a few in the litany because his machine-gun delivery leveled me.

CLAIMED

Before Paramount served him divorce papers, Tom Cruise starred in a few flicks. One was the picturesque, though critically panned, “Far And Away.” Without delving into the story, the film’s central image portrays Cruise’s character staking a flag in the dirt of Oklahoma amidst a land rush. For a moment, the camera focuses on this banner.

KUDZU

You will not reach perfection in this lifetime. Why don’t we teach this? How much heartache could we avoid? Some people sow frustration by planting a vine called kudzu. Have you ever seen kudzu? Somebody thought it would be great for cattle because it grows anywhere and quickly. Cows didn’t like it. It now covers the South.

WHY DID YOUR PARENTS WANT YOU?

For some children, this question may hurt too much to ask. The answers don’t always fill us with a sense of belonging. Words like “mistake,” “accident” and “unplanned” hang over some lives. “You weren’t in the cards.” “We didn’t expect you.” “I didn’t ask for you. And now you are here.”

FOLLOW

I deeply want to experience all of life.  I want to fall in love; marry; have children; build a career; attend my kids’ football games; eat dinner with them; send them to college; renew my vows with my wife; attend reunions; visit old friends; and sit on my porch on a large piece of land in the South with lemonade in my hand.  I’ve painted pictures in my head, I want this so badly.

COUNTING THE COST

There are two costs. Count both before you choose. If you see deep, close-knit friendships that ride out time’s storms and selfishness and wounds and fatigue and career, you will surely want one. Something so refined possesses great beauty. But such a beautiful and exquisite thing costs greatly.

OLD COVENANT/NEW COVENANT

Life is not fair. How often did my mom remind me after I returned home from yet another day of childhood injustice?

REWRITING THE HARD DRIVE

Wanting to do some more writing, I began to look for a laptop. Pen and paper can’t compare to a word processor for speed and easy storage. My friend knew this, and he came up with a free used IBM his nephew hoped to discard. It seemed like an answer to a prayer.

REVOLUTION, PROPERLY PERCEIVED

We came to know that the earth orbits the sun through a revolution of thought. Before that revolution completed itself, the proponents of such preposterous thinking found themselves excommunicated, officially ostracized from the church. Copernicus and Galileo paid a hefty price for correcting the larger world’s self-centered understanding of the universe.

TEACH WHAT?

Antoine St. d’Exupery said, “If anything at all, perfection is achieved not when there is no longer anything left to add, but when there is nothing left to strip away.”

HEAR YOU, HEAR, YOU

You see it so often. Two people furiously clash over some words, meanings or intentions lost on the path of communication. It sounds like Capitol Hill during an election year. But it could be closer than you think: classmates discussing a project, fraternity brothers checking expense accounts, or any man and woman fighting over semantics. Both parties desperately want the other to hear them, to receive their words and meaning.

RACA

On a recent fall night, I went to a concert. A singer-songwriter played whose music remains on a regular rotation in my four-disc changer. And though his work is not overtly “sacred,” leaning much more “secular,” I shared with a friend my suspicions about this musician’s knowledge of Jesus.

THE UN-GAME

One day as a kid, my mom came home proudly toting a newly purchased board game. Already an avid competitor in the auspicious realms of “Chutes and Ladders,” “Trouble” and “Candyland” respectively, my will to win surged at the mere sight of the Toys R’ Us bag.

THE GREATEST ADVENTURE

God loves adventures. Who of us cannot relate to Frodo, and his best friend sidekick Samwise Gamgee? Frodo, the impulsive hero on a mission to deliver the Ring of Power, and Samwise Gamgee, who recognizes that he himself cannot be the carrier of the ring, but he can carry his friend Frodo.

WHO I AM

Throughout Dixie, I’m a Tennessean. Folks in Georgia and Alabama know what that means. Outside the South, I’m a Southerner. That means something to Yankees. Around the world, I’m American. That means something to everyone I meet off native soil.  

POSSESSED OF A CAUSE

These people always intrigue and sadden me: they have bumper stickers decrying the plight of a people or the earth. They rally and picket. They have a cause (or maybe the cause has them). And they’re filled with rabid poison toward their adversaries.

WHERE I AM RIGHT NOW

I hate sermons about the Great Commission. I cringe, and something inside me rejects the harsh guilt trip that pastors incite. “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel …” They present this like a new idea or an old one that they just discovered. 

MO’ MONEY

I received an email today from my friend.  He works in… money. That’s the best way I can say it; if I said his job title you might get the wrong impression about his line of work, and that would miss the point.  Anyway, my buddy told me one of our other buddies had really been hitting home runs at work lately, making some real jack. A little farther down the road of life, a different friend of mine told me I could make some big cash in his line of work also: yet another job in money.

CONTRACTS AND CUTTING

We’re confused. Today, we plan for divorce before we marry. Built-in protections and exits exist in the form of pre-nuptial agreements, safeguards of one’s property in the likely event of a divorce. Above all, the thinking says, me first.

WANTING FOR MORE

Have you ever wanted heaven having grown sick of sin in this world? It may have simply inhabited the air around you, or you may have tripped over it too many times, but either way, it gave you a semi-nauseating feeling in your stomach. You see it around you, in advertising, in movies and on television, at almost any social event, and you think, “There’s got to be more than this. This is just disgusting and heartbreaking.” You start to hate this non-life offered as a poor substitute for real life in this convoluted world.

HOMESICK

Returning from vacation, I drive down the same roads, knowing the exact location of sharp turns and potholes. I know when to accelerate and how to brake around the last turn. I pull into the garage and unload. When I open the door to the house, it creaks recognizably. The familiar smell arouses my senses.

WAITING

From traffic lights to lines in grocery stores, so much of life seems to consist of waiting.  The minutes in between our daily activities consume a surprising chunk of our time. And this waiting frustrates us, because we never scheduled it. I dread the day where everything takes so much longer than expected, and I complete only half of my to-do list. Waiting reminds us that it’s not all about ourselves. Another plan supersedes our own.

OUR FAITH

“He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:5-6)

Where there was no faith, Jesus could not operate.

PERSON OF LOVE

Who really expects love to deliver anymore? We hear the word everywhere, but we also see the reality in the same places.

FOR WHOM

We’re driven to appear employable. We seek out BAs, internships, MBAs and JDs. Some of us, however, don’t want to work for anyone else; we’d rather set our own hours, own a business, and drive the vision of our workdays. So our ostensible options are working for others or working for ourselves. Our option is not ever to not work; we will work. The question is for whom.

ABSENCE OF ARISTOCRACY

Jesus said that he’s a king. The writers of the Hebrew scripture refer to God as a king, and write that he understands himself as such.

STEP ONE

It was Kansas wheat harvest time, and Austin Mann rose early to pick up his grandson, Tracey. They drove 20 miles south of their hometown Quinter to prepare for the long day’s work. As they approached the land they were about to harvest, Austin noticed a grain truck approaching, with 16-year-old Wesley Miller at the wheel.

A STATE OF UNION

We actually believe that self-sufficient independence and fulfilling relationships belong together. Might we have it wrong?

INSULT AND INJURY

We bear inherent risks when we seek to please our Heavenly Father. First of all, pleasing Him will inevitably run us amok with those whom we would rather please–our human colleagues on earth. How many times has God called us to things that look strange to worldly observers?

SMILE BACK

Jenny hunches over the crib, using her hands to spread her eyes wide so they’re comically large. “I’m gonna give myself wrinkles before my time,” she whispers as she contorts her eyebrows up and stretches her cheeks into a fish-face, wiggling her fingers with her thumbs in her ears.

WHO?

I heard this in a class once. Researchers showed a battery of images to individuals who had one eye covered. The covering of a certain eye interacts with the memory. If the individual knew a word for an object flashed before his eyes, he could remember it. If he didn’t have a word for the object, he didn’t remember it.

FAITH IN LOVE

Who expects love to deliver anymore? We hear the word everywhere, but we also see the reality in the same places. A girl was asked if she’d go on a date with someone besides the guy she was seeing. She replied, “He’s not my boyfriend, but I don’t want to jeopardize anything.”

PERFECTION

Despite our widespread and deep-seated notions of perfection, it is not what we think.  We look at perfection as having to do with a great veneer- don’t smoke, curse, drink, wear baggy clothes, see R-rated movies, sleep late or spend too much money.

THINGS I OWN?

Think about all the things you “own”. You have clothes, an iPod, shoes, books, a computer, a car, a surfboard and nifty North Face pack. A lot of time goes toward their acquisition and care.

NOT MY WILL

The concept of “God’s will” was the hot topic of spiritual writers in the mid-80s. It seemed everyone had a definition of what “God’s will” meant, but few felt satisfactory.

ROCKY JESUS

 

Were I to buy the idea of Jesus sold me to me by pop culture-the Sunday School portrait of a finely groomed man in a soft white robe holding a lamb, teaching only the golden rule-I’d have a mix of the Snuggles Bear, an Irish Spring shepherd, and a proto-hippie.  Yet this limits him so much.  He is, says and does more.

PYRAMID SCHEMES

An old friend called to tell me about his new “business.” He told me about his business mentor and his associates, how people are finally making what they’re worth. “You might be able to cash in, too,” he said.

A MAN-MADE GOD

Search the scriptures, and see if you can find it anywhere. You know, the “C” word. Don’t know what I’m talking about? “Christian.” People use the word often, seldom considering its many meanings. As we talk with others, we find a multitude of definitions.

INCOMPLETE PEOPLE

One man loves well but he cannot manage money. She manages money but struggles to care for her husband. He cares for his family and serves in his community but is addicted to work. She loves the Lord but drinks herself to sleep at night. She swears and smokes and has a short temper, but has a soft and generous heart. He’s defensive and fearful but passionate about justice and mercy. He gives to the poor, cares for orphans and widows, but struggles with pornography.

SPOKEN

God spoke. He said, “Let there be light,” and light appeared. He said, “Let us make man,” and man was created.

MOUNTAINS

We crave an ultimate finale, an accomplished finish line, a terminus. Yet when adopting the Lord’s purpose as our own, we must abandon this desire. We must exchange it instead for a lifelong pursuit of something not fully knowable.

ENTAILMENTS OF A COVENANT

I sat in a wooden pew. Candles lit the altar and illuminated the shadows of the ornately cavernous chapel ceiling. Organs and bagpipes sang traditional songs, and a radiant woman dressed in white walked expectantly down the long aisle on the arm of her father, who smiled with both joy and sadness.

LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAVE

Before Jesus sent the disciples to teach others, he told them to do one thing. Jesus had just mentioned the need for workers, then he told these guys the first thing they should do is pray.

CHOCOLATE OR VANILLA?

“You have two options,” he said, “chocolate or vanilla ice cream. Which do you choose?”

POWERS THAT BE

I remember vividly one scenario where I witnessed the transformation of the citizenry and its view of presidential authority. The internship I mentioned earlier started in January of 1981. As I helped plan the National Prayer Breakfast, our small staff was given a tour of the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, DC.

NATURAL ATTRACTION

No one sees a feuding couple and says, “I want that!” No one thinks, “I can’t wait to have a distant and dead marriage where both of us live on opposite ends of the house and rarely speak.” The same holds true for friends or teams or groups that treat one another coldly. It’s just not a pretty sight.

THE COMMANDMENT

I fail at love. As soon as it costs me something, I check out.

And this is frustrating, because Jesus demands love. That’s really it.

DO I REALLY BELIEVE…?

That Jesus remains in me?  That I remain in him? That he cares more about love and mercy than service and sacrifice?

PURPOSE AND PERVERSION

Inventors create products with a purpose in mind. Alexander Graham Bell created the telephone for long-distance communication. Wilbur and Orville Wright invented the airplane for advanced transportation.

GOD CREATIVE

People try to escape Jesus for as long as they can. We can ignore him, and we do. We develop systems financially, socially, physically and especially pseudo-spiritually to get away from needing or heeding him. Loving us, he’s jealous; but loving us, he doesn’t force us to reciprocate.

THE ID

Philosopher Sigmund Freud described the “Id” aspect of our personalities. This fleshly being cares only for himself or herself, and is consumed with taking, seldom giving anything back.

GLORY WHORES

I hate wedding receptions. I feel awkward, and the main reason is this: people won’t come right out and tell me how great I am. They won’t tell me how good-looking I am, how pleased they are at my presence, or how the party would feel terribly boring without me.

KNOWING, LOVING, LOOKING

Sometimes when I drive across the Naval Academy Bridge, I have to will myself to steer my eyes toward the taillights in front of me. The glistening water to my right and the drifting sailboats headed east in slow freedom plead for my attention.

BELIEF IN THE NOT-YET

Clarity arrives in reverse. The picture created by the puzzle materializes fully only when the pieces configure in final combination. When scattered and strewn upon a table, the fractured picture is not a picture at all, but instead a chaotic mess of meaningless shards. Although it carries the potential for something whole, in its uncompleted state, it remains something of the not-yet.

ORDERLY MYSTERY

Creationists chortle: “God created everything!” So who, then, created evil?

OREOS FOR BREAKFAST

Moby once said that if given the choice as a child, he would’ve eaten Oreos for breakfast, ice cream for lunch, and Oreos mixed in ice cream for dinner. He would’ve been happy. Fortunately, his parents intervened.

GENIE OR JESUS?

Do you remember the fantasy-inducing childhood question? “If you had three wishes, what would you wish for?” Everyone would always say, “More wishes,” or “infinite wishes” until the questioners grew wise to this and axed that option.

BLESS GOD’S HEART

I prayed this morning. No, I didn’t quite pray; I unloaded. Some people have those deep prayers where they sit and listen for God. The late Mother Teresa, when asked what she said when she prayed, replied, “Nothing. I just listen.” When asked what God said, she replied, “Nothing. He just listens, too.”

THE OTHER COST, PART 2

In the November 2005 issue of “National Geographic,” a headline article carries the story about the longest-living people groups in the world. The first group lives in Sardinia, Italy. The Sardinians eat pecorino cheese, drink red wine and work hard. They also live closely together for their entire lives.

TEACHERS

We don’t remember what we learned in school. We remember the hard lessons of the hallway, or the cafeteria lunch table. But little of the chalkboard material and exam data remain with us. That only lingers when the teacher engages us where we live.

STATE OF THE HEART

Sometimes people on television deliver advice on how to become wealthy. They tell you about your potential, your destiny, or God’s reward for your behavior. Any of these, depending on the charlatan or shyster of the hour, can lead to a home in the Hamptons and four-car garage. 

GOD IS LOVE?

When she heard 1 Corinthians 13 for the first time, a friend asked, “That’s in the Bible?” “Absolutely,” I replied. “It’s rather well-known.” “Wow,” she said, “I never would have thought.” Upon hearing this, my first reaction was, “Where’ve you been all your life?” But after further reflection, this exchange highlighted a flaw in our common understanding.

FORGET TO REMEMBER

As a kid, I loved the book, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” I loved its vertically rectangular cover that opened to reveal an enticing world of possibility. I loved the sketch drawings that evoked vivid wonder.

THE GOLDEN RULE?!

Shocking. Nothing less than this adequately describes Moses’ teaching that Jesus echoed. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Are you kidding?

LIFE FROM DEATH

Call me morbid, but I love funerals. They teach me about life.

BREAKING THE LAW

For a Judge, God sure had an interesting way of handling rules. God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac. God told Joseph to marry a pregnant woman.

Jesus told the Pharisees that He would tear down the temple.

THE ROAD HOME

Returning from vacation, I drive down the same roads, knowing each sharp turn and pothole. I know just when to press the gas and the perfect braking pattern to round the last turn. I pull into the garage and unload. Opening the door to the house, it creaks in the same way. A familiar smell arouses my senses.

THE OTHER COST, PART 1

Someone said that love primarily has a contractual nature. Love means a commitment to which we bind ourselves. With love, we agree to give, receive and seek forgiveness. We choose to continually reconcile, repair and rebuild the relationship. We believe the person worth the choice to return again and again, no matter the cost.

INCOHERENCE TO ARTICULACY

We learned incorrectly. We assumed that we needed to begin with perfection instead of traveling along the continuum of life as a journey. Communication takes place in progression. We age. We grow. We develop in thinking and faith, ultimately learning the desire to learn how to listen.  And learning the desire to learn how to pray.

DIRECTION OF CHANGE

Do I eat because I am hungry, or do I eat because the clock flips to twelve o’clock?  Am I motivated because of the internal or because of the external?  Do I function on body time or by mechanical time?

“SAVIOR”

Last fall, some friends and I attended a concert after work. One of those friends introduced me to his colleague, a Capitol Hill staffer new to the District.

OWNING THE RELATIONSHIP

I wait by the phone. I continually check my email. Will anybody call first? Write first? Or make first contact? When people tell me to just stop by their houses, do I? Or do I resist and refrain out of myriad excuses. They spoke without sincerity. Why should I inconvenience them?

THE LOSERS

Looking at their track records, Jesus really didn’t do such a great job of picking his followers . . . or did he?

TIME AND SAND

Driving across the country, endless expanses of America pass by my window.  Farmland. Desert. Lakes. Pastures. A continuity establishes itself in the repetition of land: a mundane movie with no visible plot and scenery with no scene.  As a kid, seatbelt strapped, I watched with steady disinterest, my mind calculating the remaining minutes before I could pose the question again, “Are we almost there yet?”

…FOR THE WORLD?

Is he enough for this world? Can he heal divisions in my church? In my country? In my government? On my team? In my office? In my household?

THOUGHTS ON PERFECTION

Perfection is like a prison. We start out laboring to achieve it, but end up in bondage. The perfection we seek is an illusion. But when the TRUE perfect comes, the partial things will fade away. I have strived for perfection my whole life. I know personally how much of a prison this pursuit can become. Unfortunately, I’ve also expected the same of my wife and kids. In doing so, I inevitably set them up for failure because perfection is an unattainable goal. Instead of doing good, this expectation ends up hurting my relationship with them. I’m grateful to the Lord that He has helped them mostly recover from my mistakes.

HORIZONTAL UNITY

Brian was the quintessential straight-laced Midwestern fraternity boy: funny, nerdy, and leader of the well attended chapter Bible study.

HELP

We have problems with dependency. We cannot need. We will not ask for help. I would rather be needed than need. I would rather provide than be the one requiring provision.

RISK: THE GAME OF PERSONAL EMANCIPATION

He sat across from me at our bar. As usual, he was late, and I antsy. But we still spoke openly of marriage, friends, sex, God, money, work and each other. We imbibed our usual spirits, downed marvelous burgers. And then it came.

MANKETTI TREE

In the deserts of Africa, little vegetation grows. A harsh climate of arid conditions and sweltering temperatures makes survival nearly impossible for anything other than some scraggly shrubbery.

BEGINNINGS

My sophomore year of college I enrolled in linear algebra, an ominous but necessary class to fulfill my intended math major.

SEALED

Perhaps our fears, when we peel them down to their core, come from forgetting. We fear that we’ll be forgotten by those who care for us, by those who should care for us. The greatest fear is that God will, or has, forgotten us.

WHY GIVE?

Some estimates say the scriptures mention poverty more than 2,000 times. Life in the city mentions it on many street corners, under bridges, and in alleys at night. Someone needs or wants, and they ask. Or someone needs, which asks something of us.

SEASONS

I stepped off the plane a few hours ago, arriving in the strangely sub-arctic temperatures of Baltimore after departing from a balmy Los Angeles afternoon. Subconsciously I willed the plane to pivot 180 degrees and return to the Pacific Coast: to the beaches, ocean breezes, air that smelled of flowers, and trees teeming with ripe avocados and robust oranges.

GROWTH

You can’t make yourself grow. You cannot tell muscle, sinew and bone to expand. This power does not belong to you.

GIVING FROM NOTHING

Viktor Frankl describes the experience of nakedness in Auschwitz, a World War II Nazi concentration camp. When he had nothing – truly nothing – death no longer held fear over him.

THE BEGINNING AND END OF WORK

Two people chose not to believe. Life has been toil since. But not just in the physical and material realm. Our fall incurred the curse of work. The earth resists us, and we labor for enough food to eat today. Tomorrow, we begin it again.

JESUS THROUGH THE CRACKS

The wife of a rural pastor would seem to have little reason for smiling. She and her husband lost their oldest son when he was nine. They are poor and have no visible hope of ever moving out of poverty. The needs of their church and community demand their time, their energy, their resources.

HE JUST LOVED THEM THERE

Have you seen the protestors who attend the funerals of failed soldiers?  Their banner scream, “God hates you!”  “You’re going to Hell!”?  Thus they protest against government policies they claim God punishes by death in battle.  They claim they stand against immorality and godlessness.  No one has responded favorably to them or their tactics.

WHY TOGETHER?

John 17 is Jesus’ prayer for those who believe in him. He asks one thing of the Father for them: oneness. “That they may be one, just as we are one” (v. 22).

THE ULTIMATE MULTI-TASKER

A great juggler invokes the awe of the audience. Multiple balls fly through the air in figure-eight patterns, bowling pins and blazing batons are thrown and caught and maneuvered with impossible flawlessness and skill. The crowd watches in wonder. How can he keep so many balls in the air? How come he never drops the bowling pins? Why doesn’t he feel the heat of the blazing batons?

WHAT A GOD WANTS

One of our primary desires is our desire to be right. If others don’t believe us, we’ll try to prove them wrong, hopelessly.

PRESENCE IS REQUESTED

Looking at a new Bible software on my computer, I came across some of John Wesley’s notes. Amazingly, I can look up his or Matthew Henry’s famous commentary on almost any passage of scripture.

ENGLISH IS RELEVANT, AND SO IS JESUS

“What does Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ have to do with anything? Will I ever use this? Does this literature stuff matter at all?” My questions regularly flummoxed my high school English teachers. Convinced my classmates had the same questions, I voiced them regularly.

WALKING WITH THE LORD

Reading through Genesis, and indeed, the Old Testament, one cannot miss numerous references to people who “walked with God.” Enoch actually walked so closely with God that, in the end, God took him straight into His presence.

SOMETHING BROKEN

Our natural inclination expects perfection. We crave it, not because we’ve ever known something perfect, but because we think we should. My car breaks and frustration ensues. My sister hurts me or fails to follow through on a promise. I’m disillusioned and jaded. Plans fall apart, and dreams sometimes vanish in the face of reality. I stand discontent with myself and constantly self-berate. I’m not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, confident enough, witty enough, worthy enough …

THE KINGDOM

What is the “kingdom” that Jesus talks about?  Where is it located?  How long does it take to get there?  What is the official language?  The currency?  The colors of the flag and the tune of the national anthem?  When Jesus refers to this place we think tangible location and visible arrival, yet his descriptions cause conundrum and provide little in terms of clarity and description.

LISTEN …CAREFULLY

Eve heard the serpent speak. The problem wasn’t the hearing. The problem lay in her choosing to listen. Thus, the serpent won the right to deceive her. Every person’s story since entails a competition of voices.  To what voice will we bend our ear, listen and believe?

BURDENS

“Dad,” he said, “I’ve had the best week of my life.” “Impossible,” the father thought. “He’s been at a work camp all week. What’s he been doing that he enjoyed it? What’s been so great?”

QUESTION UNITY, QUESTION YOU

In what do I want to invest my life? Work? Money? Achievement? People? Do I want friends?

CLEANING UP

A friend and I visited his mom in the stroke recovery wing at the hospital. A few days earlier, a stroke impaired her ability to function day-to-day. We arrived, greeted her, then took her down the hall to the cafeteria for dinner.

READ IT AGAIN, SAM

A former governor and a lobbyist approached a friend of mine, himself an influential. They sought his support for a grass-roots lobbying group focused on putting family first.

LEARNING

Why do so many colleges exist? Does our nation truly contain such an extensive number of eager learners who wish to dedicate four years of their lives to study?

THE WEDDING AT CANA

Two things strike me when I read about the miracle of water into wine. The physical transformation stands out, for sure, but it’s the nature of the circumstances sparking the miracle that catches my attention. The event says something specific about Jesus as a person.

NOTHING IS MINE

This thought stays with me in my more enlightened moments: nothing is mine. To that end, or to move toward that end, I try to avoid saying something is mine. I try to say, “The car I drive,” rather than “my car”, or “the place I stay,” rather than “my apartment”. This comes fairly easily, since the computer I use belongs to my employer; the apartment belongs to the landlord; the car belongs to a bank; and the clothes I wear have mostly been given me. I don’t even own my bed or desk.

ALIEN NATION 3

Now for the big question. How do we get right with God? How do we fix the relationship that has always felt a little off, a little broken?

SNOZZBERRIES

In the movie, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (the old one with the terrible special effects and a tragic absence of Johnny Depp), the lucky children who tour Willy Wonka’s candy factory visit various departments of the production facility. Confections abound, including, but certainly not limited to, gummy bears larger than bowling balls.

THE HOUSE OF STEWARDS

Jesus tells a parable about people and what they’ve received. Some Wall Street aficionados might tout this as Jesus’ endorsement for capitalism, but we can safely assume the waters run more deeply than financial theory.

INVISIBLE

Believing has never been the problem. We believe in chairs. So we sit in them. Ever had anyone pull a chair out from under you as you sit down? A “friend” did it to me once, in front of a roomful of people. How embarrassing. Yet I still believe a chair every time I sit on one.

BUSY

Modern Americans typically keep a calendar of their daily, weekly and monthly activities. We create lists, make appointments and schedule lunches. Whether the list is handwritten or exists on your iPhone, the truth remains the same – the things on our calendar drive our daily lives.

TAKES ONE TO MAKE ONE

I played on a team that had much talent but was thwarted by little coaching and even less heart. One of the team’s self-appointed leaders often complained about the coach.

ALL THE TIME

It looks so obvious in retrospect. He sent us pictures all along. The pictures showed us what he looked like. That way we might recognize him when we met him.

THIRSTY

We thirst for love. Some say we’re deficient without it. The Apostle John says God is love (1 John 4:16). If we’re children of God — or at least cast in his image – and if John is right about God, love should play a key role in our lives.

FAMILY FIRST

“I hate you!” my little brother wailed as we stood on the edge of our grandparents’ pool,  staring down at what had occupied the top spot on his Christmas list for the past several months. His shiny new remote-controlled monster truck lay on the tiled bottom. Thankfully, my mother stepped in to shield me from his rage for waterlogging his prized possession. He was told to forgive me because I was his sister. For all our flaws, love of family (or at least absence of hatred) was a bedrock component of our childhood home.

THE TRICK TO LIFE

I hate wedding receptions. I feel awkward, and the main reason is this: people won’t come right out and tell me how great I am. They won’t tell me how good-looking I am, how pleased they are at my presence, or how the party would feel terribly boring without me.

THE BEST STUDENTS

During Jesus’ life and teaching, one group refused to listen. They were those who believed they already had all the answers. They were the religious elite. They had no time for Jesus because they already solved life’s mysteries and refused to ask further questions.

PROCEED

Someone I know recently completed his first triathlon. He hadn’t trained, but he had finished. Asked what he learned, he replied, “Run toward the pain.”

ROLES OF JESUS

Teacher. Rabbi. Messiah. King. Savior. Redeemer. Friend. Christ. Servant. Son. Prophet. Man. God. Rebel. Revolutionary. Priest. Intercessor.

The roles of Jesus. All true.

GREEK TO ME

What does love look like? Buying your wife flowers on a whim? Loaning your car to a friend in need?

TOO SIMPLE

Some people remain in an esoteric world that has little take-away value. A few people I know have a gift of making the apparently complex understandable and livable. Jeremy being one of these, I called him.

IRA

In this life, we save for a later date. We put the products of our time and our labor in some box for safekeeping. We call those boxes 401(k)s, pensions or Social Security. We put away the fruits of our efforts for a day when we’ll need them. They are our fortune, waiting for our arrival at that future date.

THE FAITH OF JESUS

Have you ever noticed the way Jesus chose his disciples? From our vantage point, it appears haphazard. Jesus walked along, saw a guy fishing, and said, “Hey! You! Come with me, and I’ll unfold the greatest mysteries of the universe.”

BELIEF’S BABY

Belief produces. Though we cannot see, touch, or hear belief, we see the results it yields. Those results are the decisions and deeds that form our lives. Look at Abraham.

THINGS OF GOD

What kind of employer is God? Compared to the world, he offers abysmal pay and benefits.

WHITHER PURPOSE?

Howard Schultz’ vision had two purposes: creating a great work environment and producing “the best coffee experience possible.” Starbucks was born. “Jerry Maguire” centered on a sports agent struggling with his own purpose and direction in a life that screamed, “Show me the money!” Rick Warren’s “Purpose-Driven Life” has sold over 24 million copies, shattering records at every turn. Best-seller lists, song lyrics, institutional mission statements, and movies all indicate that we increasingly think about this idea of purpose.

IS HE ENOUGH FOR ME?

Is Jesus enough for me? Is he enough to bring me back?  Or do I need the right church, the right books, the right job or the right pastor? Do I need the proper friends? Do I need to dress a certain way and attend certain conventions, while eschewing certain words?

LOVE IS A PERSON

Jesus is God, and God is Love. So if we replace “love” with “Jesus” in this passage from the Apostle Paul, here is what we get (English Standard Version):

THE SMALL THINGS

In the 1990s, a prominent New York NBA player complained that the players in the league couldn’t feed their families on the average NBA salary, which was $ 1 million a year in 1991. He couldn’t feed his family on six zeros? Was his family a small nation?

VESTED INTEREST

Someone told me that if you’d owned one share of Coca-Cola stock one hundred years ago, it would’ve split one thousand times by this point. No one I know has held shares of anything for a century, but you get the point.

BALANCE

“Practice moderation in moderation,” the yoga instructor repeated in a melodic chanting as she rhythmically struck the studio-sized mini gong.  My mom and I attempted to stay balanced as we stifled laughter.  This exercise in relaxation stretched more than just our muscles and tightly wound tendons.  Admittedly we were yoga novices, far more accustomed to a brisk run or lengthy bike ride.

WHAT HE’S SAYING

College entrance essays ask which historical figures you would like to meet. Magazine reporters ask which three people you’d like to have for dinner. And myspace.com has a listing for each profile, “Who I’d like to meet.” It should be “Whom”.

THE SECOND IS LIKE IT

Parents will tell you. Just ask them. How does it feel when your children get along with one another? How does it feel when they scream and fight?

IS JESUS ENOUGH FOR US?

Is Jesus enough? Is he enough to bring us together? If you’re Protestant and I’m Catholic? Or if I’m Tutsi and you’re Hutu? Perhaps we’re both conservatives? Is he enough to bring us together without making us copies of one another?

WHAT IS A COVENANT?

God created a covenant with a human. And I have absolutely no idea what that means. What is a covenant? Why would he create one with me?

PROMISE OR POSSIBILITY?

Charles Spurgeon had four words for Jesus’ promises: Sue him for it. If Jesus makes a promise, we can act on it and say, “You promised this.”

ACTIVATION

Have you ever made a major life change, and then found yourself in a less-than-ideal situation? Your new boss has a screw loose. Your new neighbors don’t have nearly the same funny friend-group potential of your last ones. Your new lunch buddies are stiff and boring compared to your last workplace. The task or location itself was an upgrade, but the people that came with it are a bummer.

HOLY HOUSE, HOLLOW HOUSE

On either end of my block stand two church buildings, two small but elegant cathedrals. They have stood here for a long time, but now remain unvisited and empty.

THE FRUIT OF UNITY

A few weeks ago I sat in a spacious living room that was not spacious enough. The definition of proper seating extended to include the floor, end tables, and even other people. When these invented options were exhausted as well, the remainder of the large crowd that gathered simply stood; the rest squeezed into corners and deep past the double doors that marked the entrance to the room. While the arrangement was not comfortable in the physical sense, the purpose of the gathering overshadowed the inconvenience.

WHOSE?

“Remember the Titans” contains a scene that elicits laughs while illustrating a point. Herman Boone is the newly hired black football coach at T.C. Williams High in Alexandria, Virginia, during the racially tense seventies. Before he takes his new and epidermally varied team to camp before the season, he has a small exchange with his All-American linebacker, Gary.

DISCIPLESHIP FOR DUMMIES

Jesus gave the disciples a grand commissioning. Long discussions and numerous conferences focus on Matthew 28:19-20. We could discuss this at length and analyze the various aspects, but let’s look at one element of the commission.

WHEN I THINK OF HEAVEN…

In heaven, I think George Steinbrenner won’t be able to buy all the players he wants. I think celebrities won’t be as weird as they are here, and politicians won’t be as insecure.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE IMMATERIAL

A little girl rode shotgun as her father drove to the grocery store.  Opening the glove compartment, she discovered a pack of Marlboro Lights.

ALIEN NATION 2

This is how I work: if someone even slights me, I put up a wall. It might be small, to resemble the offense, but it performs the task of separating us. Eventually some people hurt me even more, and I build the wall higher to ensure that they stay out. I just can’t let them in to do any damage.

LIFE THROUGH CREATION

The Bible begins with creation. God creates something from nothing and transforms void into vastness.  Light differentiates from darkness. Land separates from the sea. Trees, plants and animals are given life and placed in the newness newly created.

ALIEN NATION 1

Many have hailed Karl Marx as a genius for identifying alienation in the human condition. His philosophical and political treatises engage the topic of alienation as he looks at the worker’s life in unchecked capitalism. But Marx saw nothing new. Two millennia prior, Jesus had already identified alienation, and more accurately. His solution involved not governments, but personal relations. His interactions with Peter bear this out.

CONSTANTLY

What a toll modern technology takes on interaction. A new generation craves the next text message, and rarely writes a personal note on paper. And now we have video conferencing. Soon, we’ll have made face-to-face interaction fully obsolete.

ARE YOU FULL?

At some point in our childhood, we hear a story about a bird. Why we hear this story, anyone can guess. Perhaps one generation feels the need to illustrate problem solving for the next.

HOW?

What does it mean to be intentional about making disciples? And why is this so important?

EARTH REVOLVES AROUND WHOM?

“Are you ever hurt, Dad?” Carol asked. The question stumped Ted, her dad. A dozen hurts raced through his mind, but none came out.

ENEMY TERRITORY

Along with much of the imagery in the book of Genesis, we put the devil in a storage closet, to be sorted through at a later date. Maybe when Halloween comes around. We can get behind the New Testament “neighbor” talk, and even loving the lepers, but the “devil” seems to be a poorly drawn cartoon character, an ill-willed fast food mascot that belongs with the Hamburglar and the like. Our college education interferes with belief in an evil tooth fairy.

WHICH LOVE?

Father’s Day: The man gazes at the bluish screen from the slump of his Lazy-Boy. His wife presses a young daughter to tell him that she loves him.  She resists, knowing his surly nature and aversion to affection.  She approaches, confronting her fear.  

EMMAUS

Everything changes. That’s the result of believing Jesus. In Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire,” Louis tells his interviewer how radically the world appeared to him as a vampire. It would never be as he saw it in his human life.

WHO AM I?

Hundreds of years ago a Roman centurion approached a rabbi on the street, cornering him with two questions, “Who are you?” and “Where are you going?” “How much money do you make?” responded the Rabbi.

PERFECTLY IMPERFECT

Perfection is a prison. We start out laboring to achieve it, but end up in bondage. The perfection we seek is an illusion. But when the true perfect comes, the partial things will fade away. I have strived for perfection my whole life. I know personally how much of a prison this pursuit can become. Unfortunately, I’ve also expected the same of my wife and kids. In doing so, I inevitably set them up for failure, because perfection is an unattainable goal. Instead of doing good, this expectation ends up hurting my relationship with them. I’m grateful to the Lord that He has helped them mostly recover from my mistakes.

MANIFESTATIONS THROUGH MOTION

I was seven years old. As my mom bustled around the kitchen cleaning I realized it. What a terrible discovery.

VOLUNTARY VERSUS INVOLUNTARY PRAYER

Along with a group of friends this morning, we discussed what exactly drives us toward prayer. We were all spiritual men, who share the plight of distraction.

THE ID II

We place ourselves at the center of the universe. God removes us, and takes the spot for Himself. Such is God’s order of the universe. When we understand this, we find our true state of being. Man believes that life starts at birth. God believes that life starts at death. Each day, we attempt to deny the self, the “Id” of our lives, according to Sigmund Freud.

IMAGO DEI

In his own image he made them. In the image of God he made them. In his image he made us, you and me.

FACETS OF AN ELEPHANT

Gandhi relays the story of a group of blind men gathered around the elephant. Each touches a different part, one the tail, one the trunk, one the massive body, and another the tusk.  Based on their tactile observations, someone asked them, “What is an elephant?”

THE HEAVY LIFTING

I love to ask young people revealing questions, like: “Who among you is the laziest and the hardest working?” This one always sets off a rousing debate.